Is the diocese of Lincoln serious about forming mission communities? One can’t imagine it isn’t. But if it had been trying to give the impression that it isn’t, it couldn’t have organised things better.
To encourage parishes to group together not in benefices (units defined by the available quantity of clergy and by the authority of incumbents) but to group together in mission communities (units defined by the ability to generate the energy and resources needed for new vision and action) would be a fascinating exercise - and it could be a significant step to develop a habit consistently to name mission (rather than maintenance) as a purpose and community relationship (rather than structures) as the mode of operation.
Some such intention was announced as long ago as 2013 - and then nothing was heard for nearly a year.
Finally paperwork came from the diocese - timed to arrive the day after the last parish in the diocese would have held its AGM in 2014 where such things could have been be floated and explored. The paperwork gave less than two weeks notice of briefing events and then an eight week interval before a thought through response which would affect the parish’s strategy for years to come was expected.
Then, after the submission date, silence again for another nine months.
At Easter 2015 an e-mail from an Archdeacon’s Secretary broke the silence with an attached progress report. The single sheet announcing that ‘we were delighted that nearly 80% of our parishes responded’ – who ‘we’ were and why a failure to catch the imagination of nearly a quarter of the parishes in the diocese was the cause of such delight was not explained.
‘The vast majority of parishes think that the current groupings of parishes into benefices (under the pastoral care and leadership of your vicar or rector) offers the best shape for allowing the church to flourish in your area’, it says, a failure of vision which the process thus far almost invited.
So the bold initiative turns out to be one allowed to revert to being a re-branding exercise for the existing structures. Medium term memories will recall the moment the radical mission area proposals of yesteryear began to stall – when it was decided that it was simpler if existing deaneries operated as mission areas and the gravitational pull of accustomed deanery practice began to pull us away from anything new.
‘At the Archdeacons’ Visitations in May this year, you will received a ‘certificate’ from the Bishop of Lincoln which we hope you will display to inform congregations which parishes and communities you have decided comprise your mission community’, it continues.
It doesn’t. Our single parish, benefice and team ministry is (I assume in the absence of any engagement with us over the previous nine months) to be our mission community and is named at the top of our certificate – which says the Bishop is ‘delighted to affirm and celebrate that you have agreed to work with the other parishes in your mission community’ of which there are in fact none, making the certificate displayable only at the risk of someone taking it seriously, asking what that actually means and discovering it doesn’t accurately state our position at all.
‘The archdeacons will tell you more about this in the visitation services that all churchwardens will be attending in May and June’, it almost concludes.
They didn’t. At least, the archdeacon who led the particular service I attended didn’t let the words ‘mission community’ pass his lips.
But then neither did the Diocesan Secretary or the Suffragan Bishop in their major strategy presentations to the most recent Diocesan Synod. Nor does the diocesan website (not that it has lips): there are no identifiable pathways to follow to find the vision or implementation of mission communities set out; entering the term in the search box only throws up the forms sent out over a year ago; the parish profiles of five of six vacant benefices don’t use the term, and the sixth uses it only in a context which mistakenly elides the concept with a ‘church categorisation’ process which the diocese ran alongside the initial mission communities consultation.
My admittedly unworthy and deeply childish thought is that the diocese is clear that there is a gap between the standard at which I operate and the standard at which senior members of diocesan staff operate, and cumulative evidence seems to show that this is in fact true.
Meanwhile, we will get on with the task of getting one of the diocese’s new Discipleship Development Advisers to come and see what we have been doing with developing our Mission Action Plan and what we might be doing improving our approach and/or seeking to access the different funding, staffing and/or training resources it is making available.
The mid-Victorian font at Snelland was another attractive find during the recent West Lindsey Open Churches Festival.